Soheila Sokhanvari, traditionally trained in the arts of the Persian Miniature and manuscript painting and illumination, takes these historically rooted skills and recontextualises them for a contemporary audience. Sokhanvari integrates her own concepts into the these formal constrictions, changing and challenging the nature of the genre and blurring the boundaries between history’s then and the present’s now. Through these methods, the miniatures are able to function as a vehicle for the expression of Sokhanvari’s bicultural identity as a British-Iranian.
The subjects of these works are often events and traumas that ‘linger in the collective consciousness or cause mass amnesia’. Faced with such happenings that are impossible to represent, Sokhanvari plays with the relationship between the title and the art object by severing the signifier from the referent, this way the art object becomes an aesthetic skin to a complex political issue.
As well as taking influence from Persian mediums, these works are also often born out of the inexhaustible language of proverbs and Persian stories. The visual language in these miniatures crosses the boundaries between national, cultural, social, political and personal. In a particular interesting combination of many of these features, Sokhanvari created a series of drawings with crude oil and 22ct gold. Again, the adopted formal style, recontextualised with the use of a unique and largely contemporary material, alongside the cultural importance of crude oil, acts as a layered reference to her Iranian roots. In what could almost be deemed a performance, Sokhanvari illegally flew a 500ml vat of crude oil from Iran to London via British Airways in 2009. This oil was then used to create Sokhanvari’s miniatures, allowing a deeper political subtext to exist in the materiality of the medium. The representation themselves are taken from imagery of pre-revolutionary Iran, drawn from the internet.
“The act of experience is not the same as its representation. Since, as the situation suggests, one has to invent layers and riders to go with the representations, so as to create communicative function for the units of experience.”
Soheila Sokhanvari graduated in 2006 with a postgraduate diploma in Fine Art from the Chelsea College of Art and Design, London, and an MFA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College in 2011. Her work has been selected for Young Gods, Charlie Smith Gallery (2011), was one of the top ten UK new graduates shortlisted for the Catlin Art prize in 2012 and has been exhibited as one of the top seven new art graduates for exTRAct at GL Strand, Copenhagen (2011). She lives and works in London.